Nigerian forces shot and killed at least 16 suspected Boko Haram militants during a firefight in the northern city of Maiduguri on Tuesday.

Some suspected Boko Haram terrorists attempted to open fire on [security] operatives but could not succeed. We have so far shot dead 16 of the terrorists during a shoot-out, field operations officer for northeastern Borno state, Colonel Victor Ebhaleme, told Nigeria's BusinessDay.

Since Boko Haram gained strength last year, President Goodluck Jonathan has sent his Joint Task Force, a coalition between state and local police and the military, into the country's most troubled cities. According to witnesses in Maiduguri, the JTF prepared for Tuesday's battle by sending in tanks to surround a suspected Boko Haram hideout, in the process taking over four neighborhoods and sending residents fleeing from their homes. The subsequent gun battle lasted over three hours, according to the Daily Trust, and some civilians were reportedly hit by stray bullets.

In a separate attack on Tuesday night, suspected Boko Haram members killed three police officers, one of whom was retired, in the city of Kano.

Boko Haram, which means Western education is sin, is a loosely organized Islamic militant group that is trying to turn Nigeria into a sharia state. The group, which targets government officials, police stations, churches and civilians, has killed more than 1,000 people in the past three years, including more than 500 people in the first five months of 2012. The site of Tuesday's battle was the same place where Boko Haram members beheaded two civilians and killed a police officer earlier this year.

There is increasing concern that, as it grows, Boko Haram is finding support from outside, particularly from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda's North African presence. The AQIM, as it is known, already operates in nearby Niger and Mali, and, last week, the group executed a German in the Boko Haram stronghold of Kano.

The Nigerian government's effectiveness in fighting Boko Haram has been nominal, although the number of militants that are being captured or killed is on the rise. Now President Jonathan, who has tried both force and peaceful negotiations, might receive help from a Washington that is interested in quashing al-Qaida. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns said on Monday that the U.S was ready to explore a potential partnership with the Nigerian army to build its civil affairs capacity.

We are all disturbed by the repeated scenes of violence in various parts of Nigeria, which threaten to undercut the gains Nigeria has made, Burns said, according to Nigerian's The Nation. Violent extremist militants like those associated with Boko Haram offer no practical program to improve the lives of Nigerians. They depend on resentment and neglect.